The rules of engagement

(Beijing weekend)
Updated: 2007-06-01 11:34

The rules of engagement
Shoppers take a closer look at the Panjiayuan market.
Photos by Zhang Wei

A trip to Panjiayuan can be like playing Let's Make a Deal and The Price is Right simultaneously. But instead of wrangling with Monty Marble or Bob Barker, you're likely to be haggling with a hard-bargaining huckster from the remotest reaches of Yunnan.

Expats automatically find themselves at a dickering disadvantage, but burnishing your bargaining skills could help you finagle those "foreigner fees" down to zilch. And once you're able to work magic with the merchants, you'll find the prices could befit the namesake of the Dirt Market.

I've splashed cash all over this bizarre bazaar and have walked away with both super steals and dubious deals. My best success story is my scroll set, while my worst wrangling was for my bedding.

I paid 500 yuan for the silk bed set, which I should have gotten for less than 300. But an art vendor baited me with a 350-yuan offer for a plum blossom scroll that I walked away with for 30, using the following formula:

1. Dress down.

2. Feign fantastic disinterest.

3. Speak as much Chinese as you can.

4. When consulting with friends, use Pig Latin to speak freely among yourselves.

5. Pantomime a cardiac explosion after they offer their first outrageous price. Call the first price offered "luyouzhede jiage" (tourist price). Explain you're not a tourist but actually live in Beijing. The usual tongue-in-cheek retort will be: "Of course you're not; I can clearly see you are Beijing ren". Laugh heartily.

6. Panjiayuan's peddlers love funny business, so fun finaglers with an aptitude for amusement will wheel better deals.

7.Tell them you come frequently with Chinese friends who've told you local prices.

8. Purport that another stall has the same thing for cheaper (about 10 yuan more than your willing to pay).

9. Once you've just about got them where you want them, scrupulously inspect your item for any defects. Any blemishes offer final bargaining chips.

10. Start ridiculously low and increase your price by increments of 5 or 10 yuan. When you and the vendor come within 10 yuan of each other, offer to meet them in the middle.


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